Jill Merkel MS, RD, CSSD, LD

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for something nutrishus

Jill found the series on Instagram and was eager to take part. Her work with athletes and thoughts for the future are ones that I hope will trickle into Canada as well, as our colleges don't seem to have full time dietitians yet (there's an opportunity there!). I can totally relate and I agree with Jill, that I often feel judged about my food choices because of what I do for a living, yet most (if not all) dietitians I know love food and things like wine and chocolate too!

Why did you become a RD?

My journey into dietetics began in 2009 when I started running. I began training for my first half marathon and naturally started to make nutritional changes as well. I was surprised at how much better I felt and how my running improved from making a few simple nutritional changes. I also lost 20 pounds without trying and I thought “hmm… maybe I should go back to school to become a dietitian.” So that’s what I did!

What area of dietetics do you work in?

Currently, I am in private practice in Nashville, TN and virtually – Nutrition for Endurance - specializing in sports nutrition and weight management. I also teach an online sports nutrition course for the university back home, do some consulting work and manage my blog RunEatSnap.

How would you explain what you do?

In my private practice, I see clients individually to assess their current nutritional habits and see where we can make some positive changes. I am a big believer in making small changes that are sustainable and realistic versus trying to make a complete overhaul overnight. I also do group presentations for sports teams, clubs, and organizations. 

What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?

Every day is different. I see clients, write blog posts and social media posts, manage my online course, and whatever else comes my way! 

What has been your career path?

Once I decided to go back to school to study nutrition, I did a 2-year undergrad degree in dietetics back home and then I did the Coordinated Master’s Program at the University of Utah because they had a sports nutrition emphasis, which is what I wanted! While at Utah, I spent a year working with the sports dietitian and the collegiate athletes. Following graduation, I did a sports nutrition fellowship at the University of Virginia working with their collegiate athletes. After that, I moved to Minneapolis to work for EXOS at Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine where I worked with athletes of all ages including youth, high school, collegiate, professional, and adult “weekend warriors”. I loved the variety of clients and athletes I saw in that job but ultimately decided I wanted to be closer to home so I moved to Nashville, TN and joined the crazy awesome entrepreneurial world! 

What advanced education or special training do you have?

I have a master’s degree in nutrition with an emphasis in sports nutrition. I am also a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD), which is a credential for dietitians with a minimum of two years of professional practice experience and 1500 hours of specialty practice experience in sports nutrition. 

In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?

Sports nutrition is a rapidly growing field now with more than 70 colleges having at least one full-time sports dietitian and 17 NFL teams now have a full-time sports dietitian. It is definitely becoming a more well-known and respected part of athletics, which is great! In 5 years, I anticipate even more colleges, professional teams, clubs, and even high schools will have a sports dietitian on staff in some capacity. As it continues to grow in those settings, I believe more adult “weekend warriors” will also realize the importance of nutrition in their athletic training and for overall health. 

What would you like people to know about RDs?

Becoming an RD takes years of education, hours of internship practice, passing a board exam, continuing education, and often specialty credentials such as the CSSD. It is a very competitive field with less than 50% match rate for dietetics internships across the country right now. 

What are challenges you encounter as a RD?

Just today, I was asked “are you a health coach?” I think the main challenge as an RD right now is people don’t know or understand the difference between RDs and “nutritionists” or health coaches. Also, people think I am going to judge what they are eating, when, in reality, I feel like I am judged more often for what I am eating because I am a dietitian. I love chocolate! 

What do people think that you do for a living?

Honestly now that I work for myself, I think people have even less of a clue about what I do. I recently wrote a blog post –What Does a Sports Dietitian Do? to hopefully provide some clarity. 

What are you passionate about in dietetics?

Like I said before, I got into nutrition when I began running and made some nutritional changes to support that. I am passionate about helping others realize that small changes over time can lead to big results!

More about Jill:

Instagram: RunEatSnap

Facebook: RunEatSnap

Twitter: @JillMerkelRD

Blog: RunEatSnap.com

Website: JillMerkelRD.com

Thanks Jill!